John Clay

Three in a row for UK would be 'huge'

John Clay
John Clay

If we know anything about Rich Brooks, we know Rich Brooks is all about doing at Kentucky what hasn't been done in a long time at Kentucky.

Or doing what has never been done at Kentucky.

Saturday is all about another chance to do just that.

Since the Governor's Cup series was launched in 1994, Kentucky has never beaten its cross-state rival, Louisville, three times in a row.

"That would be huge," Jorge Gonzalez, UK's senior center, said Wednesday.

In fact, since the Governor's Cup series was launched in 1994, a UK senior class has never graduated with three victories over the cross-state Cardinals.

"That would make me 3-1 in my career against them, which would be big," senior linebacker Micah Johnson said this week. "That would be big for the whole team."

Huge.

Big.

That's just what the Cats were saying before UK's Liberty Bowl win over East Carolina last season marked the program's third consecutive bowl win for the first time in school history.

"I feel like that's how we have to approach this game," said running back Alfonso Smith, himself a Louisville native. "We've got to approach it like a bowl game, something that hasn't been done in a long time in Kentucky history."

And not a trap game. It's strange to think of a rabid rivalry game as a possible trap game, but there is a hint of a trap feel in the air.

Kentucky is a two-touchdown favorite. There is almost as much, if not more local talk about UK's next two opponents, Southeastern Conference behemoths Florida and Alabama, as there is about Steve Krag thorpe's struggling Cardinals.

Brooks himself hinted this week that part of his game preparation centers on making sure the Cats don't think of themselves as favorites even though they are favorites.

"There's always an emotional factor when it's a rivalry game," he said.

When Brooks overheard Smith telling the media how his friends keep disparaging the current Cardinals, Brooks stopped and raised his hands in the air, as if to say, "What are you doing?"

No bulletin board material.

In the past, the emotion most felt with regard to U of L by UK's seniors was disappointment. No Kentucky football player has gone better than 2-2 against the Cards since the series was reinstated in 1994.

The seniors of 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2008 all finished 2-2 against U of L. The seniors of 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007 went 1-3.

The senior class from 2006 left UK without beating the Cards, it being caught in the middle of Bobby Petrino's four-game mastery of the boys in blue.

In fact, before last year, only once had UK put together back-to-back wins over the Cards, that being Hal Mumme's first two seasons as coach, 1997 and 1998.

"At one point in time, I think, our fans didn't think we could beat Louisville," said defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin.

But then Steve Johnson caught that late TD pass against Kragthorpe's Cards for a heart-stopping 40-34 UK victory in 2007 and pulled the Cats out of the Louisville death grip.

Then the Kentucky defense not only shut down Louisville, but also scored a couple of touchdowns of its own in a 27-2 Big Blue triumph last year.

So just as UK made a goal out of winning that third straight bowl last year, now's the chance to complete a third straight win over the Cards this year.

"I could finish my career with three straight over Louisville, and that's huge," said Smith. "That would carry on throughout my life, and I could tell my grandkids what we did to Louisville.

"But we've just got to go out and win the game. We've got to win the game first before we can do any of that."

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